The Trees of Tree Town
Take Ann Arbor, for example. After the glaciers receded and before European settlers arrived, what would one day be called Tree Town was part of an oak savanna, a vast grassland dotted with widely scattered trees. Though it looked natural, that landscape was actually a human creation. Native Americans set fire to the savanna every few years to encourage fresh growth that attracted the deer and buffalo they hunted. The burns cleared out most shrubs and saplings, leaving only the fire-adapted oaks.
When the settlers arrived, their first surveys showed bur oaks in the center of town, with black oak in the barrens to the west and both oak and hickory in the hills to the north. But, except for a few scattered survivors, the native oaks virtually disappeared by the mid-nineteenth century, as the land was cleared for farming.
The settlers replaced some native oaks from sprouts, but mostly they planted elms and maples with a sprinkling of locusts, sycamores, and ashes. By the mid-twentieth century, colonnades of narrow-leaved elms lined Washtenaw Avenue and Stadium Boulevard.